An Indiana court has dismissed the lawsuit filed by a gay teacher who claimed he was dismissed from his position at a Catholic high school after marrying another man.
According to The Indianapolis Star, Joshua Payne-Elliott worked as a world language and social studies teacher at Cathedral High School from 2006 until 2019.
Joshua, notes The Star, married Layton Payne-Elliot, a teacher at the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, in 2017. Shortly after the couple wed, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis requested that Brebeuf terminate Layton’s employment.
However, Brebeuf refused, leading the Archdiocese to threaten that it would strip the preparatory school if its Catholic status. However, Brebeuf resisted and filed suit; their case is still awaiting appeal.
Becket attorney and vice president Luke Goodrich, who represented the Archdiocese, said the court’s decision to dismiss Joshua Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit is a victory for religion liberty.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for asking Catholic educators to support Catholic teaching,” Goodrich said. “This has always been a very simple case, because the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the freedom of religious schools to choose teachers who support their religious faith.”
Becket said that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis took two years—from the couple’s wedding in 2017 until 2019—to decide its reactions to the men’s marriage. In 2019, the Archdiocese directed Cathedral High School and Brebeuf to fire both men.
The men’s civil marriage, stated the Archdiocese, violated the Church’s teachings and views on gay marriage.
The Payne-Elliotts had argued in their lawsuit that their employment contracts did not include a “morality clause” mandated by the Archdiocese at some schools.
Archbishop Charles Thompson later explained that Joshua Payne-Elliott was not fired for being attracted to men, but for entering into a same-sex civil marriage.
“In this particular case we’re dealing with, those are ministers in our Church. Teachers, guidance counselors, other leaders, leaders of the schools and other leaders in the archdiocese are bound to live out these principles,” Thompson said.
Consequently, the Archdiocese demanded that both Joshua and Layton Payne-Elliott be removed from their positions.
“Every Catholic school teacher in the Archdiocese signs an agreement to uphold the Church’s teachings in word and deed. The teacher here was dismissed after he entered a same-sex union in knowing violation of this agreement and of millennia of Catholic teaching,” Goodrich wrote on Twitter.
Goodrich and Becket also explained the arguments they used to support the Catholic Church’s position.
“Church Autonomy, which protects internal religious governance,” “Expressive Association, which protects the ability to form groups to express a message,” and “The Ministerial Exception, which protects the freedom to choose religious leaders,” Goodrich wrote.
“It is important that courts consistently uphold the right of religious groups to operate by their religious principles,” he added. “Choosing who teaches in a religious school is a religious decision. Today’s order ensures that those decisions will be made by churches, not governments.”